“Hi, Aunty, what’s that nutty flavor I smell?” called out Preethi as she walked into Dr. Radha’s kitchen.
“Hi, Preethi, you’ve come at just the right time. Here, eat this laddoo and tell me how it tastes,” beamed Dr. Radha.
“Umm…I don’t really like Ellu unde, Aunty, sorry!”
“What? But ellu or sesame – as we say in English – is so good for health, Preethi!”
“Really? I didn’t know that!”
“Didn’t your mother make you eat this sweet a few years ago when you had your first menstrual period?”
“Yes, she pleaded and cajoled and threatened me by turns, so I would hastily gobble it up without ever tasting it,” shuddered Preethi at the memory.
“Ah, your mother is a sensible woman. Have you heard of estrogen, Preethi?”
“Yes, Aunty, I know it’s one of the female reproductive hormones.”
“Right, and sesame seeds contain compounds called lignans, which are considered phytoestrogens – that is, they can mimic the actions of human estrogen. Estrogen is very important to regulate the menstrual cycle, and it also has effects on ovulation and fertility. You know, Preethi, in one study, women who had delayed periods were made to consume sesame seeds and guess what they found?” (1)
“That the sesame induced menstruation?”
“Exactly! That is why our elders created this practice of giving sesame laddoos to young girls when they attain puberty. The phytoestrogens in sesame help to regularize the menstrual cycle. Sesame seeds are also a great source of iron, zinc, copper and selenium and the vitamins E and B6 – all of which play an important role in proper functioning of the immune system.”
“I remember reading an article that talked of the immune system being more stressed at puberty because of the hormonal changes. So, you mean, that’s why our customs include this practice of giving sesame laddoos to girls at puberty?”
“Very smart of you, Preethi! That’s precisely the point I wanted to make!”
“But my mother also forces sesame on my dad! What’s the use of it for him?”
“She’s probably doing it because her elders must have told her sesame is generally good for health. Which science is discovering to be very true. Remember I once told you about antioxidants? Well, sesame too has been found to have antioxidant action, so it has a protective effect on our health.
Researchers have found that sesame oil can protect against damage of the heart cells. It also is a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids, particularly the omega-6 fatty acids, which have been shown to play a major role in preventing heart disease. Some studies have also shown that consuming sesame seed helps to reduce the blood pressure, which you know is an important determinant of a healthy heart function.” (2), (3)
“Ok, fine, I get that. But what I find weird is a practice used by my grandfather. He pours some sesame oil into his mouth and swishes it around for a few minutes, making funny faces and then spits the oil out!”
“Preethi, that isn’t a weird practice! It’s a very useful method called ‘oil pulling’, which has always been advocated by Ayurveda for good oral health.”
“I just don’t get the connection, Aunty!”
“Sesame oil contains ingredients which have antimicrobial activity, Preethi. You know that bacteria in the mouth can result in several infections. Research shows that swishing sesame oil around the mouth helps to reduce gingivitis which means inflammation of the gums. (4) It also shows promising results against bad breath and dental cavities.”
“Ok, Aunty, I’m convinced now that sesame is indeed good for health.”
“Yes, but don’t forget about it and argue with your mother the next time she tells you to massage sesame oil on your head and skin before a bath!” laughed Dr. Radha.
“Aunty!!! How did you know I do that?” gasped a stunned Preethi.
“I just guessed, Preethi. But remember, the ingredients in sesame – polyphenols and fatty acids – make it an excellent skin softener, moisturizer and hair conditioner, too.”
“Okaay, so there is truth after all in the ‘Khul Jaa SimSim’ code of the Arabian Nights story!”
“Haha, yes, indeed. Sesame can certainly open the door to one’s good health. But some people may be allergic to it, and suffer from itching when they consume or apply it. It’s not advised for them, and even pregnant women must not take sesame because it may have an untoward effect on the unborn child.”
“All this talk has made me hungry. I think I’ll eat those laddoos you were offering me, Aunty!”
1. Yavari M, Rouholamin S, Tansaz M, Bioos S, Esmaeili S. Sesame a Treatment of Menstrual Bleeding Cessation in Iranian Traditional Medicine: Results From a Pilot Study, Shiraz E-Med J. 2014 ; 15(3):e21893. Available online at: https://sites.kowsarpub.com/semj/articles/20393.html
2. Saleem, M. T., Chetty, M. C., & Kavimani, S. (2013). Putative antioxidant property of sesame oil in an oxidative stress model of myocardial injury. Journal of cardiovascular disease research, 4(3), 177–181. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3849287/
3. Khosravi-Boroujeni H, Nikbakht E, Natanelov E, Khalesi S. Can sesame consumption improve blood pressure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. J Sci Food Agric. 2017;97(10):3087-3094. Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28387047/
4. Kaliamoorthy S, Pazhani A, Nagarajan M, Meyyappan A, Rayar S, Mathivanan S. Comparing the effect of coconut oil pulling practice with oil pulling using sesame oil in plaque-induced gingivitis: A prospective comparative interventional study. J Nat Sc Biol Med 2018;9:165-8 Available online at: http://www.jnsbm.org/article.asp?issn=0976-9668;year=2018;volume=9;issue=2;spage=165;epage=168;aulast=Kaliamoorthy